The other day I went out walking with my mom and her hiking club.
The walk leader promptly proceeded to get us lost in the urban woods. For TWO HOURS.
At first I took it well – it was a pristine day, just the right degree of sunshine and warmth, and the company was good.
But as we walked and walked, and it dawned on me that we were walking in circles yet again, my temper finally frayed. Once it began fraying, it wasn’t long before it completely unraveled.
When we got back to the car, I apologized to my mom and her friends, saying I didn’t know why I had gotten so angry. My mom said, “Yes, usually you aren’t like that.”
The truth is, that particular combination of events represented a particularly heinous pet peeve of mine – trusting someone else to lead me and getting lost as a result. As such, I was angry at myself first and foremost, and as my anger towards me built, it simply spilled out and over onto everyone in the damage path.
Through this experience – and a few similarly irritating others that piggybacked on it in days to come – I have recently come to realize just how much I have often depended on the internal combustion of unexpected (and frequently humiliating) anger to push me towards positive change.
For instance, I still remember my childhood best friend telling me I was “too fat to be friends with” – too fat to even be seen with, for that matter.
I nearly imploded from anger, then began a decidedly unhealthy eating program that culminated in a 15-year battle with an eating disorder. (Misguided, yes – but also the decision that ultimately led me to recovery, and to the healthy life I have today).
After I recovered, I still remember the time a professional therapist told me my recovery from an eating disorder meant I couldn’t ever be trusted to support someone who was still suffering – her rationale being – what if I relapsed? What kind of message would that send to still-recovering folks? Grrrr.
I got so angry I created MentorCONNECT, which has now helped facilitate free mentoring match-ups between recovering and recovered people all over the world.
Another time, a (now ex) boyfriend told me I had nothing to offer him as a friend and that he saw me not as a person, but as a “project.”
After several years and many well-learned mentoring lessons in unconditional love later, I walked away from our relationship and even our friendship, finally utterly confident that was the most loving decision for us both.
I have so many examples like this – moments when I have pitted myself against someone else’s naysaying or doubts – using strong anger as an equally strong catalyst for personal growth and self-evolution.
But today, I am realizing my anger – frequently instigated through the presence of angry, doubting people who choose to blame me for my own (mostly quite fixable) shortcomings – is not my only resource.
In fact, anger is far from my best resource for positive change.
Anger might be what I learned growing up, and it might have been the first resource I found that really worked to light a fire of change under me, but today I am finding out love is even stronger – and doesn’t tend to leave long-term bruising and scars where healing might otherwise more readily take root.
On that very subject, my mentor recently replied to an email I sent her about anger with these loving words:
To have love, you have to be love – and be who you want to be in love – and love will follow – not often in the form we may have envisioned – but, so long as we are true to ourselves as much as is humanly possible, it will be love, we will feel that it is love, and we will know peace. Those are profound Biblical words. There are so many hints about the truth in that book. For one, love, joy, and peace are partners. When you feel two, you know the third is also present. When you feel the opposite of one of them, the other two are not present – you are fooling yourself because you want them, but they are not present. And then the other thing that is a formula for living – the truth shall set you free. Or – to paraphrase the Bard – if you are true to yourself you cannot be false toward others…
I never before now saw love and peace as partners. Thanks entirely to my mentor’s tireless reminders to this effect, I have long known enough to wait to seek peace before making any big decisions (like breaking off a relationship) but until now, I never saw love as a partner to that sense of peace, or joy as a partner to them both.
I never really realized that when I choose love, I get peace and joy as well, and when I choose anger, I get none of the above.
Truthfully, sometimes anger can offer a useful wake-up call and serve as a launching pad for life’s “aha moments” and the appropriate action that often follows. It has stood me in good stead over the years, and I have accomplished some truly positive goals through the forceful, motivating nature of my own anger.
In this way, I am grateful to my anger and its friendship.
But today, anger feels debilitating rather than restorative and discouraging rather than enlivening. Today, my preference is for peace – and for the love and joy that comes not from getting what I might want in that moment (such as a quick route out of the woods or a partner who will change his personality for me on a dime) but from doing the right thing for all concerned over the long-term.
All that to say, I feel like perhaps, after all these years (decades, really) perhaps my long relationship with anger as my primary resource for change is finally drawing to its natural conclusion.
Today’s Takeaway: What is your own relationship with anger? Do you find it an obstacle or a useful tool? Or perhaps both depending on the surrounding circumstances? Is there a time to be angry and a time to tamp down against anger? Have you tried different approaches (anger, peace, etc.) and found one that works best for you? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Angry woman image available from Shutterstock.